With healthcare costs skyrocketing in Illinois and throughout the nation, we need to think about ways to help our businesses cut expenses and stay competitive—and healthy—in 2011.

Many recent studies have shown our country’s health charting a distressing course, as the incidence of obesity and chronic disease continues to grow. If we don’t act today, employers will end up footing a larger healthcare bill for a workforce that is not only less healthy, but less productive.

As part of our mission to drive value to our members’ bottom lines, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce is providing an easy and inexpensive way for local companies to make an investment in the health of their workforce in 2011.

Live Healthy Central Illinois, a new workplace wellness initiative promoted by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the East Peoria and Morton chambers, the Illinois Chamber and Live Healthy America, offers a new way for employers—even those with few resources to spare—to approach wellness.

Studies have shown workplace wellness programs not only cut healthcare costs, but also reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, morale and company loyalty among employees.

The Live Healthy Central Illinois 100-Day Challenge, which kicked off in January, uses friendly competition between teams to promote physical activity and improved dietary habits among participants.

Each week, participants log their weight or the number of minutes they have exercised onto their personalized dashboard at livehealthyillinois.org. The website takes care of the rest, tracking their progress and offering motivational messages, healthy recipes and more.

A company can have a single team of two to 10 participants, or multiple teams. They then compete with teams from across the state by comparing their progress on the Live Healthy site.

The team aspect of the program builds camaraderie among coworkers, boosts company morale and encourages participants to reach their fitness goals. Each company also has the ability to track its teams’ progress and view stats for overall activity and weight loss.

Peoria businesses participating in Live Healthy Central Illinois are getting into the spirit. Employees at Simantel say they’re thoroughly enjoying the healthy competition. “Wellness isn’t just about hitting the gym,” Simantel Copywriter Christine Smith told me. “If you incorporate smart changes into your everyday routine, the changes add up.” According to Smith, those changes can range from choosing the stairs over the elevator to foregoing cream in your coffee.

And if people need extra motivation, their teammates will provide it. “We’re a pretty competitive bunch,” she said.

The goal for Live Healthy Central Illinois is to promote the many benefits of an active lifestyle and help make Illinois businesses happier, healthier and more successful in 2011 and beyond. Contact the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce for additional information about the program and find out how your company can still get involved. iBi